Incarnational Apologetics

Apologetics and the Postmodern Turn, Part 3

In the modern era (and for those today that still think in a modernistic paradigm), we thought in more individualistic terms. Rene’ Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” This was the ultimate individualistic statement—my very existence is proved not by my interaction with others around me, but in my own thought-life.

The Enlightenment made individuality a virtue. What you or I believe cannot depend on what others believe; each of us is responsible for our individual beliefs and actions. This, by the way, is the foundation of Western (especially American) politics—that each of us has the right to our own individuality, including the very property of our person.

So, the Christian apologetics that sprung up in the modern age sought to affirm individual’s right to belief, but not in the postmodern way. In modernity, beliefs were to be disputed and argued. Right beliefs were based on right presumptions based on rational rules of logic. In the free marketplace of ideas, those with the best arguments based on irrefutable logic should win the day. So, when non-theistic arguments began creeping up more and more in an Enlightenment world, theistic arguments were devised to counter.

In a postmodern era, however, the trust in logical argumentation has given way to skepticism. The postmodern person correctly assesses the arguments of modernity as nothing more than word-games, ways to twist words to mean what the speaker wants them to mean, whether or not they match reality. In fact, they’ve seen so many people tell them that they know the “truth” that they now doubt that anybody can put into words anything that correlates to reality.

Postmodern people tend to be suspicious of claims to knowing absolute truth. They are skeptical of certainty. They believe that what we call “knowledge” is really only “theories.” They’ve seen the scientists change what they teach too many times—the latest things they say we can “know” scientifically will be later replaced by newer things we “know.” They also have seen too many religions with various teachings that each claims to “know” for certain. They have watched the Christian preachers on their Cable TVs and have seen a dozen different spins of the truth, with each proclaiming with apparent certainty that their version is right. Postmoderns assume that Christianity is not authentic because it evidently has changed so often throughout the years at the whims of its leaders.

For many postmoderns, it is not a matter of not believing in “absolute truth;” it’s a matter of skepticism that anybody can put into words what truth is. Why? Because they’ve seen too many instances of people using words as a means to power. Too many people twist other people’s perception of reality simply by the use of words.

So, what is the postmodern Christian apologetic that connects with this skepticism that we cannot know the truth absolutely?

The Bible is clear: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We must admit that Christians have shown an overconfidence in our ability to know absolute truth. While we must never deny the existence of absolute truth, we must deny that any one of us has a perfect knowledge of absolute truth. This does not mean that we do not know any truth, for we can know some truth without knowing all truth.

THEREFORE, a postmodern apologetic must become less fixated with proving “the truth” and more fixated on “living the truth.”

Postmoderns will want to see your truth before they will want to hear your truth. They will watch the way Christian communities live out their faith. They will be skeptical that a Christian belief in God really manifests itself in a changed life that they might want to embrace.

As Philip Kenneson writes,

“What our world is waiting for, and what the church seems reluctant to offer, is not more incessant talk about objective truth, but an embodied witness that clearly demonstrates why anyone should care about any of this in the first place…Our non-Christian neighbors are right in refusing to accept what we say we believe but which our lives make a lie. If the claim ‘Jesus is Lord of the Universe’ is true, one must have a concrete historical community who by their words and deeds narrate the story in a way that gives some substance to it.” (Philip Kenneson, “There’s No Such Thing as Objective Truth, and It’s a Good Thing, Too,” in Phillips and Okholm, Christian Apologetics in a Postmodern World)

We must first prove that Christianity is real in our actions, then we can maybe share with them why we do what we do.

Jesus did not say that they would know us by our truth but by our love. At the heart of our gospel is not a stated fact or proposition, but a person. He is displayed to people not just by preaching at them, but by living as He would live as his called-out Kingdom community.

Jesus called himself “the truth.” Truth, therefore, is incarnate. “Truth” in a postmodern world must have flesh on it.

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Ted Gossard said...

Incarnational apologetics really goes hand in hand with the postmodern turn, I can see. And really, the insistence on seeing the truth lived out, and not just "proven" by logical thinking (as in "Evidence that Demands a Verdict"- though even at the end of that work, as I recall, individual conversions were recounted as further and living evidence).

Scripture does emphasize changed lives in community as making a difference in our witness of Jesus to the world. Good, helpful thoughts here. Thanks.

sacred vapor said...

In regard to truth, I think the postmodern perception on truth might be a bit tricky. It doesn't appear that the average postmodernist views truth as corresponding to reality. It is perceived as a truth relative to one's own viewpoint. so, 'what's true for you might be different than what's true for me,' says the postmodernist.

It seems then, that the task of the postmodern Christian apologist is to point to Jesus as an objective truth, rather than a personal subjective truth. or is it?

Regardless if the truth is propositional or incarnate, would the postmodernist perceive Jesus as the lord of the universe, in an objective sense.

My question however, is does that really matter? is the point really for the postmodernist to embrace Jesus, or embrace an objective understanding of Jesus? this is where my thoughts are at the moment.


Bob Robinson said...


["Scripture does emphasize changed lives in community as making a difference in our witness of Jesus to the world."]

I find it ironic that all those who want to fight the postmodern turn in Christianity do not see that this is actually a wonderful opportunity to "get back to the Bible," i.e., to live out the way the Bible says to do evangelism and apologetics.

Bob Robinson said...


Yes, the postmodernist views truth-claims as being relative to communities (it is not too postmodern, and more modern, to say that truth claims are relative to individuals).

Your question nails it: "is the point really for the postmodernist to embrace Jesus, or embrace an objective understanding of Jesus?"

Jesus is the truth "in the flesh." Our purpose is not to have people accept propositions about Jesus as "true," but to have them meet the person who called himself "truth."

sacred vapor said...

Hi Bob,
you stated:
"Jesus is the truth "in the flesh." Our purpose is not to have people accept propositions about Jesus as "true," but to have them meet the person who called himself "truth."

I think you are right on this, but I'm having a bit of a problem making a disctinction about 'knowing' Jesus as the truth apart from knowledge about Jesus.

If we meet Jesus, to which we ask 'who is this Jesus?' does this not require information about him, thus a propositional response?


Bob Robinson said...


Good question. Here's how I see it:

There's two ways to get married...
1) Go to a dating service, and receive a data sheet about the person you will meet. 5'2" tall, 110 lbs., brown hair, has a short temper when she's hungry. Enjoys long walks and candle light dinners.

You meet her, and marry her based on the data, which seems to match the person. After 3 months, you begin to learn who the real person is. You either like her or not.

2) You meet a person who you find attractive. You think she's witty and pretty and you want to get to know her more. Over several dates, you ask her questions about where she grew up, what she enjoys doing, what she feels her calling in life is. After a while, you think, "I want to marry her." You marry and continue to get to know each other.

Scenario (1) starts with propositions and gets to know the person through those first. But sooner or later you've got to meet the real person and really come to know her.

Scenario (2) starts with actually getting to know the person, and along the way learning propositional data about her.

Scenario (1) seems to be the way many people present Jesus: Here's the stuff you need to know about him.
Scenario (2) seems to be the way Jesus wants to be known.

sacred vapor said...

got it.


J.R. Miller said...

Hi, my name is Joe Miller. Okay, I am definitely late to the conversation here, but I still wanted to bring to your attention a series of videos I use in my coursework on "Incarnational Apologetics & Christian Worldview" via YouTube http://bit.ly/Xf5Jxx

Would love your feedback and maybe you can make use of them in your own ministry.